How Nigerians took Boko Haram’s victims to their hearts

People have opened their homes and land to refugees. The rise of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has forced more than 2.6 million people to flee from their homes across Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, more than half of them children. Many survivors have endured horrific violence, including sexual assault.

But there has been humanity amid the horror, as nearby communities welcomed many of the refugees. Hauwa Ari is one of the Nigerians who has made huge sacrifices to help families escaping from the terror, turning land and houses she used to rent into an informal camp.

“Now I feel like I have 90 children! It’s the happiest feeling in the world,” explains the soft-spoken mother of three. “Even if these families go back to their own homes, towns and villages, I’ll visit them.”

Ari helped in part because she had been displaced herself, forced to abandon her own town of Banki when militants took it over. “We were never alone. We lived in other people’s houses,” she said. “I prayed that I would be able to give back all the generosity people showed me. Now, that’s what I’m doing.”

The area has been ravaged by violence, with schools and hospitals torched by a terror group whose very name embodies an attack on learning – “Boko Haram” means roughly “western education is a sin”. Homes have been burned and livestock slaughtered or stolen.

“We came here nine months ago because Boko Haram entered our village and terrorised us – forcing young girls to marry and killing men around me,” says Mohammed Ware, who with his three children live on Ari’s land. “We’ve finally found peace here.”

The humanitarian community is seeking around $1bn (£802bn) this year to support refugees and others affected by the conflict in north-east Nigeria.

“My brother bought this land to develop it for his motorcycle business. Instead we offered it to displaced families,” says Bukar Kaje, who fled his own hometown after Boko Haram held him at gunpoint. “We’ve given homes to more than 1,000 people, but there’s no food to give them. These are people who are used to farming corn and rice. They can’t do that now.”